Range Resources is bullish on Marcellus Shale. The Texas company arrived in Pennsylvania and 10 years ago pioneered the first modern well in the Marcellus zone. It became one of the leading drillers in the state, creating new jobs, generating public revenue and marketing what it calls a new era of manufacturing. For many out-of-work Pennsylvanians its arrival has been a plus.
Now Range is also the leader in state penalties for violations related to Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
Last week the state Department of Environmental Protection announced an agreement with Range that requires the company to pay a $4.15 million fine and close five drilling and fracking wastewater impoundments in Washington County, where leaks contaminated soil, groundwater and surface water. Two other impoundments must be upgraded to meet tougher state standards.
DEP said the consent order “reaffirms the administration’s unwavering commitment to protecting Pennsylvania’s soil and water resources.” A news release from Range said the company is deeply disappointed at the violations, but “excited to implement newly established best practices and technologies.”
Regardless of how one spins it, this unprecedented fine and the actions that precipitated it are not good news. Range has been drilling for natural gas for too long to find itself in this situation.
Credit DEP for taking the leaks seriously and for dealing out record consequences, although with Range’s annual profit of $116 million, it’s debatable if a $4 million penalty has teeth or is seen merely as a cost of doing business.
If Range Resources wants to remain a leader in the public’s eyes, it should satisfy the order quickly. Better yet, it should join the collaborative effort toward best practices being promoted by the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.